Friday, July 18, 2008

What the hell's a Hipster?

Webster’s defines Hipster as “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion).”

I didn’t really understand the whole hipster thing until I came to New York, Brooklyn specifically. The Hipster’s mecca. Sometime, last fall, I was meeting an ex for dinner before I moved to New York-- one of those painful, awkward affairs that usually ends in a little forget-me-not lovemaking. I suggested some place in Bayview, my favorite Milwaukee neighborhood, but was told, “No, we are going to _____, don’t worry. It’s a cool little hipster spot. You’ll fit right in.” I didn’t get the term, but I’d never let him know that. I mean, wasn’t a “hipster” a beatnik? Or no, maybe the lead singer of Weezer is a hipster. I wasn't sure but I did “fit right in” and I liked the little café with random knockoffs of vintage decorations and furniture, slow service, microbrews and vegan menu options.

Now, I live in Bushwick, in one of those big old warehouses that’s been half-heartedly converted to residential“lofts”. My neighborhood is knee deep in that fabled period of rejuvenation/ gentrification/occupation by an unwelcome force, which seems to attack/rescue each Brooklyn neighborhood in turn. Before that I was in a sublet in Park Slope, a neighborhood that has emerged (scathed or un, depending on who you ask) from gentrification to become a land of strollers, boutiques and bistros. Prior to the sublet, I was in a hostel in Bedford-Stuyvesant. If Park Slope has been fully immersed and is just shaking the last droplets of water from her hair, Bed-Stuy is still running up the beach to avoid the waves of gentrification washing up on shore.

I’d never been to Brooklyn for more than a few hours really, just a few day trips into Williamsburg and once apartment hunting with my shell-shocked father trailing behind, praying that I would not choose East New York or Brownsville for my new home. I booked the hostel on the website where it claimed to be in Williamsburg but my trusty Not For Tourists Guide (which is totally for tourists) showed that really, I would be in the heart of Bed-Stuy. In the taxi from the airport, I stared at the neighborhood, disappointed by the obvious dearth of coffee shops and restaurants. This was all deli’s and metal gates pulled down to act as canvas for not very creative taggers. It looked dilapidated and sketchy and I felt vaguely nervous. What had I really gotten myself into?

The taxi dropped me at the corner of Tompkins and Greene Ave. I started down the block with my suitcase on wheels. Three black guys leaning against a car at the curb called out to me.
“Hey baby, where you headed?”
“Hey Sexy, you lost?”
I kept my eyes trained on the house numbers to the left.
“What-you a student? She a student.”
“Nah, man. She’s not a student.” Maybe it was the suitcase, or my bright and shiny whiteness but they knew where I belonged.
“It’s the yellow house!” one of them shouted and I looked up the street of row houses and saw one that was painted conspicuously yellow. It stood out against all the other row houses that were dark brown colored each with a bay window in the front and a high stoop, with a hidden entrance below the front steps.
"Thanks, man!".” I shouted over my shoulder and hurried up to my new home, at least for the next three weeks. I glanced at the park across the street and saw two old men hunched over a chess board.

It turned out that the hostel was a fixture of foreign white kids on the block and the older members of the neighborhood seemed to tolerate us as an impermanent amusement, confident we’d never last. At night when we sat on the stoop drinking forties and speaking in a variety of languages, the neighbors would pass and remind us that the police station was a few blocks away and tell us not to get caught drinking in public. On Halloween we got trick o’treaters and we raced through the house, searching backpacks and cupboards for candy. In the mornings, the guy next door swept his stoop and made small talk about the unusually warm October while we drank deli coffee and smoked rolled cigarettes.

It was probably the hipster café we found tucked around the corner, or maybe it was the 40 roommates, all new to New York, all eager and willing to stay in the Williamsburg bars till they closed and then spend nearly forever waiting for the elusive G train that made it seem so good and homey in Bed-Stuy. Or maybe it was sitting on a stoop, talking to the neighbors and walking to the corner deli that made me feel like I was really in Brooklyn; and I was really in love with it.
I am too old to live with forty roommates and so eventually I sublet in Park Slope, where I am too young and too childless to live. I liked it well enough for a few months but I was still convinced I would find a place more suited to my particular brand of individualism.
My search led me to Bushwick, (East Williamsburg to some including my NFTguidebook) where I found a big loft in an old warehouse complete with freight elevator and discovered that my particular brand of individualism is more or less the same as about a million other twenty-somethingers who all moved to New York from somewhere else. So now I know what a “hipster” is. Fucking Hipsters.


CPI said...

Ha! I really enjoyed reading this. I sublet a place in Brooklyn (at Smith & Wyckoff) for a month and fell quickly into the accidental hipster pattern. I remember going out there with a small array of scrappy mid-western clothes and feeling completely outdone by the fucking hipsters. What a great time that was though...


joe crow ryan said...

I had heard the term, "hipster," used pejoratively.
It isn't really. Seems like a stage people go through.
Like anything, it could become an inconvenient identity. So long as one is open to change when need be....